Sunday, January 03, 2021

Grubs for Grub

Across the world, food consumption patterns require undergoing vast changes if  we are to create a climate-friendly food industry.  With livestock and factory farming blamed as a significant contributors to global warming carbon emissions and overfishing leading to the depletion of viable stocks, another source of protein is viewed as a necessary. There are many cultures who include insects as part of their diet. Increasingly, that option is seen as a partial solution for a sustainable food economy. Insects have been highlighted as a 'green' alternative to meat protein, as they require less water and land, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, the rearing of livestock accounts for around 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization . The production of red meat is particularly polluting. The main reason for this is because cows and sheep are “ruminants” – meaning they belch out large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when digesting food. In addition, livestock production requires large amounts of forested land to be cleared to create space for grazing cattle or to grow animal feed, which causes further greenhouse gas emissions to be released.  For every kilogram of meat they produce, cows and sheep require around eight kilograms of grains, pigs require about four kilograms and chickens need 1.6 kilograms. Growing that much grain requires intensive use of land and water.

Bronwyn Egan, a zoologist from the South African University of Limpopo, has been building up a scientific understanding of edible species of insect life. Catching, cooking, and eating insects whole is a common practice in many parts of rural South Africa. Corporations expect that the initial  use  of insects will be animal feed and pet-food but many suggest direct human consumption is the more efficient way. Insects provide much of the nutrients required to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet like iron, protein and vitamin B12,

Insects have the potential to be the world’s most sustainable protein. But we can’t get people to eat in a more climate-friendly manner if they don’t like the food. What we consider ‘good’ to eat is culturally learned. We are taught from a young age what food is acceptable, tasty and nutritious and these foods become familiar to us. The cultural knowledge we often receive about insects from a young age is that bugs are pests and carriers of disease. Despite a western aversion to eating insects, they have traditionally been a staple part of the diet in many parts of the world

The farming of insects for food has been billed as the next food revolution in western countries in the past few years but as yet to fully take off despite insect-based food have begun to appear on the supermarket shelves. 

Insects can be reared almost anywhere, including urban back gardens. Mealworms and crickets can be eaten whole, meaning no part of the animal is wasted. Mealworms and grasshoppers are both EU-approved production insects. 

American giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and InnovaFeed, a French firm  plan to begin building what will be the world’s largest insect protein facility in 2021 in central Illinois. The aim to produce up to 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein per year, plus 20,000 metric tons of oils for poultry and swine rations and 400,000 tons of fertilizer.

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